Juan Uribe, Yasiel Puig

With Craig Kimbrel watching, Braves blow late lead

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Craig Kimbrel hadn’t pitched two innings in a game since 2011, and the Braves weren’t about to have him try to get six outs now. It’s a decision they’ll think about all winter after Juan Uribe hit a go-ahead two-run homer off David Carpenter, leading the Dodgers past the Braves and into the NLCS on Monday.

The easy narrative is that the Dodgers asked their stud to do something he’s never done before and the Braves wouldn’t. And the Dodgers won and the Braves didn’t.

Of course, that’s oversimplifying things. And the Dodgers’ decision could have backfired in a big way, even though Clayton Kershaw was as good as they possibly could have hoped for while pitching on three days’ rest. He allowed just two unearned runs in six innings, but he did leave with the game tied. He also left earlier than he might have otherwise, and the Braves were able to capitalize and take a 3-2 lead in the seventh against Ronald Belisario.

But then the eighth inning came. And it’s worth noting that the Braves are on their fourth setup man of the season after Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty succumbed to season-ending injuries and Jordan Walden’s shoulder problems left him a little shaky. Carpenter’s been great, but he’s no Kimbrel and he did give up a two-run homer to Hanley Ramirez in Game 2. The Braves had Kimbrel warming up behind Carpenter in the eighth, but decided not to bring him in even after Yasiel Puig’s leadoff double. Uribe, after missing a sac bunt attempt, followed with the homer that made it a 4-3 game.

The thing is the both the Braves and Dodgers knew situations like this might arise. The Dodgers knew how the NLDS schedules were laid out. Both teams had their respective divisions wrapped up in September. Both could have experimented. The Braves could have tried Kimbrel in a two-inning save. The Dodgers could have used Kershaw on three days’ rest and then given him extra rest afterwards. It not only would have provided the teams with data, but it would have given Kimbrel and Kershaw both a better idea how to approach the situations in the bigger games. But major league teams are rarely that proactive.

Now the Braves are headed home in early October again. If you count last year’s one-game wild card, this makes eight straight postseason series lost by the team dating back to 2001. In this case, the better team won. Still, being so close to have a decisive Game 5 back in Atlanta will have the team thinking “what if?” all offseason long.

 

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.

Jason Kipnis diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after scoring a run on a wild pitch thrown by Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) during the fifth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.

There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.

Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.